Political ads: the good, the bad, and the really bad
The season’s latest campaign ads follow the same old tired plot of black and white attack hysteria, gloomy (or comical) music and an authoritative male voiceover reviling the failings of a tired old Government.
The latest from the NSW Liberals opens with a black and white scene of our lead character (the embattled NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally) admitting her failing only to be ear ambushed with a chorus of our ad’s tag line “same old Labor, same old tricks”. But we’re not left wondering for long what the plot is.
Our storyline of the sorry tale of NSW Labor’s leadership’s mistakes and failures becomes glaring apparent with the TV interview vox pops of our supporting characters Morris Iemma and Nathan Rees. And in case we didn’t get the ad’s message, we’re treated to a catchy jingle of “same old Labor, same old failure” on nauseous rhyming repeat.
Unfortunately the upcoming March NSW state election has again bred a bevy of predictable attack ads. And they’re holding true to the three rules of Australian political advertising:
1. Imagery - black and white (either still shots or videos of politicians taken from uncomfortable press conferences or news stories on the latest indiscretion).
2. Music - horror film-esque suspense designed to reinforce to the viewer that the pollie in question is evil (or conversely jovial circus music poking fun at the candidate’s failures or caricature-like body parts)
3. Storyline - reinforce history of failures, usually by repeating pollie’s own admissions of guilt/failure/mistakes or a timeline of decay of increased traffic congestion, higher taxes, longer hospital waiting lists, more pollution, and so on.
Why do our political parties only campaign on a negative, attack platform?
We saw the same pattern in the 2010 Federal election, the 2010 Victorian state election, the 2010 Tasmanian state election and even the 2010 South Australian state election.
Where are our positive party advertisements that provide the voting viewer with policy and candidate information with warm, fuzzy music, soft lighting and smiling, happy people?
Longitudinal studies into behavioural change marketing have found that positive reinforcement is more successful in effecting desired change than negative, scare messages.
People are more likely to listen if they are provided with a clear path to action. A good, recent example of this positive reinforcement is the 2010 WorkSafe “the most important reason for making your workplace safe is not at work at all” television advertisements.
The message is clear; take the desired care at work so you can come home to your loving family. The imagery and film treatment is bright, positive and presented like you (the viewer) are a fly on the wall of people just like you, behaving in the way you should behave.
Public health professionals and social marketers understand that people don’t change behaviour easily. In fact, people are more likely to adopt a new idea quickly if it exhibits these characteristics:
- It has a relative advantage over what exists
- It’s compatible with social norms
- It’s not too complex
- It can be “tried out”
- You can see someone either doing or using it.
A critical element of a successful behavioural change strategy is presenting the targeted audience with two clear outcomes; action and exchange.
In other words, be clear in what you want your audience to do. And there must be an exchange. If you want someone to give up, or modify, an old behaviour or accept a new one, you must offer that person something very appealing in return.
In commercial marketing, there are tangible exchanges (give me $4.50 and I’ll give you a Bonsoy decafe latte) and intangible exchanges (by drinking the coffee, you’re also receiving everything that goes with the image of the Bonsoy brand).
Imagine if our political parties approached campaigning with the same insight.
The NSW state election is a behavioural change case. NSW Liberals are asking the voting public to change 12 years of behavior by voting for the Right instead of the Left. And the Greens are asking the people of Australia’s first state to vote for a credible third option.
Just like in Victoria late last year, a long history of behaviour is the target of the Liberals’ (and Greens’) desire for change. The action the NSW Liberals want the voters to take is to tick the box of one of their candidates instead of Labor or (heavens forbid), Family First.
Of course, this is all a little bit whimsical. Perhaps this method of political advertising won’t be adopted readily by our political parties simply because they don’t have a clear exchange. I mean, that would mean our political parties had to have policies to offer the voter.
In this environment, the exchange is the policy benefits to the voter. And as we saw in the 2010 Federal election, policies are severely lacking by all parties. Well, except for the policy of reviling the Opposition’s lack of policy.
But all is not lost. There’s always the other tried and true film genre of Westerns - above - adopted by Dale Peterson from Alabama.
Can you imagine Barry O’Farrell using this advertising formula? Can anyone lend the Liberals a horse?
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